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Context of '9:43 a.m.-9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001: Associated Press First to Report a Plane Hit the Pentagon; CNN Still Unsure What Happened for Ten More Minutes'

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A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit.A helicopter belonging to the US Park Police Aviation Unit. [Source: United States Park Police]A US Park Police helicopter is directed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon, according to the later statements of US Navy historian John Darrell Sherwood. The helicopter’s pilot reportedly describes the incident when later interviewed by a US Marine Corps historian. Details of the pilot’s account are then revealed by Sherwood, who is a colleague of the Marine Corps historian, while he is interviewing Jeffrey Mark Parsons of the United States Border Patrol about his experiences of the 9/11 attacks.
Pilot Told to Prevent Plane Hitting Pentagon - According to Sherwood, the helicopter pilot, who is “an aviation sergeant with the United States Park Police,” is “in the area [of the Pentagon] and he got a call saying, ‘Try to intercept this plane, try to distract the plane, try to do something to, you know, prevent the plane from going into the Pentagon.’” It is unclear from what Sherwood says whether the helicopter is on the ground or already airborne at this time. In response to the instruction, the helicopter goes “to try to distract” the approaching aircraft.
Helicopter Witnessed near Pentagon - What is apparently this Park Police helicopter is then witnessed by Parsons out of a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at. Parsons sees it flying toward the helicopter landing pad at the Pentagon, two or three minutes before the Pentagon is attacked. [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258] Other individuals near the Pentagon see what is presumably the same helicopter around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001; Washington Post, 9/5/2002] Parsons has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington, near the Pentagon, for almost a month, but, he will recall, he has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.”
Pilot Sees Pentagon Attack - At some point, the helicopter lands for a period near the Pentagon. According to Sherwood, it “landed, at one point, near the Memorial Bridge, and there’s that strip of land before you get to the Memorial Cemetery.” Its pilot reportedly witnesses the attack on the Pentagon. He “saw the plane go in, and then the next thing he started doing is medevacing people out of there,” according to Sherwood. When told while being interviewed by Sherwood that the helicopter pilot is instructed to intercept a plane approaching the Pentagon, Parsons will ask, “Then they knew [the plane] was headed toward the Pentagon before it actually hit the Pentagon, then?” To this, Sherwood will only answer, “I guess that helicopter swung around, but by the time he got around, the plane was already into the building.”
Park Police Flies Huey Helicopters - The helicopter is a white and blue Huey, according to Sherwood. [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001] The Park Police Aviation Unit has two Bell 412 helicopters. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001; Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; Rotor and Wing, 2/2002; National Park Service, 10/16/2004] (The Bell 412 is a more modern version of the “Huey” helicopter. [New York Times, 8/24/2003; USA Today, 10/25/2007] ) The aviation unit is located in Anacostia Park in southeast Washington, across the Potomac River from the Pentagon. [Aviation International News, 10/1/2001; National Park Service, 10/16/2004]
Witness Told, 'Don't Tell Anyone about' Incident - Most accounts of the unit’s actions on this day will make no mention of this incident, and only describe Park Police helicopters taking off in the minutes after the attack on the Pentagon (see Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Rotor and Wing, 11/2001; NBC 4, 9/11/2003; McDonnell, 2004, pp. 20 pdf file; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 161-162] However, it appears there may be an attempt to keep the incident secret. After Parsons recalls seeing the helicopter near the Pentagon minutes before the attack there, Sherwood will instruct him: “Don’t tell anyone about that story, because that’s one of our, I think that’s one of the best stories that’s going to come out of this. We don’t want the press to get this.” [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Jeffrey Mark Parsons, John Darrell Sherwood, United States Park Police

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A number of witnesses see a helicopter flying near the Pentagon in the minutes before the attack there.
bullet Jeffrey Mark Parsons, an assistant chief patrol agent with the United States Border Patrol, sees a blue and white helicopter that appears as if it is coming in to land, from a window on the 17th floor of the hotel he is staying at, near the Pentagon. Parsons will later recall that two or three minutes before the Pentagon attack occurs: “I saw [the helicopter] circle… between the hotel and the Pentagon, going toward the landing pad [at the Pentagon] where that airliner ultimately hit. And I thought that he landed on the pad.” Parsons will say the helicopter flies in at “a weird angle,” and recall that he has been staying at the Marriott Residence Inn in Arlington for almost a month, but has “never seen a helicopter approach the Pentagon from that direction before.” He will recognize the helicopter as a Huey because he has flown Hueys and knows they make “a very distinct sound.” According to John Darrell Sherwood, a Navy historian who interviews Parsons about the incident, the helicopter belongs to the US Park Police and has been instructed to intercept the aircraft that subsequently hits the Pentagon (see Shortly Before 9:35 a.m. September 11, 2001). [US Naval Historical Center, 12/13/2001; Goldberg et al., 2007, pp. 258]
bullet A senior Air Force officer who is somewhere outside the Pentagon also sees a helicopter circling the Pentagon around this time, although he believes it to be a US military helicopter. Shortly after the Pentagon attack, the unnamed officer will tell a CNN reporter that the helicopter “disappeared behind the building where the helicopter landing zone is… and he then saw [a] fireball go into the sky” when the Pentagon is hit. [CNN, 9/11/2001]
bullet Jennifer Reichert, who is stuck in traffic on Route 27 in front of the Pentagon, will later describe that just before the attack, “A helicopter takes off from the heliport at the Pentagon.” She will add: “Minutes—maybe seconds—later, I hear it: American Airlines Flight 77 screams toward the Pentagon. The explosion [of the crash] shakes my car.” [Washington Post, 9/5/2002]
Perhaps due to the presence of this helicopter in the area, some people will initially think the attack on the Pentagon involves a helicopter hitting the building. Captain William Durm, the commander of the Pentagon’s Triservice Dental Clinic, will head to the building’s center courtyard shortly after the Pentagon is hit. Someone there will tell him a helicopter has hit the other side of the building. [Office of Medical History, 9/2004, pp. 11] Some early news reports will suggest a helicopter crashed into the Pentagon. [Thomas Crosbie Media, 9/11/2001; Poynter Institute, 9/2/2002] One report will claim that “one aircraft and a helicopter have crashed into the Pentagon.” [Airline Industry Information, 9/11/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney will later tell NBC’s Meet the Press that “the first reports on the Pentagon attack suggested a helicopter” hit the building. [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] The Guardian will report that one witness claims the explosion that occurs when the Pentagon is hit blows up a helicopter circling overhead. [Guardian, 9/12/2001] New York Times columnist William Safire will report that, at approximately this time, Cheney is told that either another plane or “a helicopter loaded with explosives” is heading for the White House. [New York Times, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Reichert, Pentagon, John Darrell Sherwood, United States Park Police, William Durm, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jeffrey Mark Parsons, William Safire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Vice President Dick Cheney, after being evacuated from his office, stops in an underground tunnel leading to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, where he learns about the attack on the Pentagon and talks over the phone with President Bush. Secret Service agents hurried Cheney out of his office in the West Wing of the White House at around 9:36 a.m., according to some accounts (see (9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 39-40; Gellman, 2008, pp. 114-116] (However, other accounts will suggest he was evacuated from his office earlier on, at around 9:03 a.m. (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [New York Times, 9/13/2001; Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] ) The Secret Service agents then rushed the vice president along the hallway, through some locked doors, and down some stairs into an underground tunnel. “It’s a small corridor,” Cheney will later describe. “There is a door at each end, a fairly heavy door. It’s obviously a place of refuge… a shelter for the president or, in this case, the vice president.” [White House, 11/19/2001]
Agents Take Up Positions on Staircase - Cheney arrives in the tunnel about a minute after leaving his office. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 335] He will recall that when he reaches the bottom of the stairs, he “watched as Secret Service agents positioned themselves at the top, middle, and bottom of the staircase, creating layers of defense in case the White House itself should be invaded.” One of the agents, James Scott, gives out “additional firearms, flashlights, and gas masks” to his colleagues. Scott tells Cheney that he’d evacuated him from his office because he’d heard over his radio that “an inbound, unidentified aircraft” was flying toward the White House (see (9:35 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Cheney Asks to Talk to the President - Moments later, Scott receives another report over his radio. He passes on what he is told to Cheney, saying, “Sir, the plane headed for us just hit the Pentagon.” Cheney will comment, “Now I knew for certain that Washington as well as New York was under attack, and that meant that President Bush, who had been at an elementary school in Florida, had to stay away.” [Cheney and Cheney, 2011, pp. 1-2] Cheney and the Secret Service agents with him therefore stop in an area of the tunnel where there is a bench to sit on and a secure phone, and Cheney says he wants to speak to the president. It takes some time for his call to get connected, however, and so he will speak to Bush at 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.-9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40; Hayes, 2007, pp. 335] There is also a television in the tunnel, on which Cheney will see the coverage of the burning Pentagon after the building has been hit (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). The vice president will be joined in the tunnel by his wife, Lynne Cheney, at around 9:55 a.m. (see (9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Cheneys will enter the PEOC shortly before 10:00 a.m., according to the 9/11 Commission Report (see (9:58 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [White House, 12/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 40]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, James Scott

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Davison Army Airfield.Davison Army Airfield. [Source: Airnav.com]Shortly after the Pentagon crash, an air traffic control supervisor at Davison Army Airfield sees two unidentified aircraft near the Pentagon on the radar of his facility, which is located at Fort Belvoir, about 12 miles south of the Pentagon. The supervisor, who is working in the airfield’s control tower, looks out the window toward where the Pentagon is and sees a large black cloud of smoke. He is told by a colleague that news reports are saying a small airplane has hit the Pentagon. He then looks at the facility’s radar scope, which shows two aircraft circling above the Pentagon. The transponder of one of these is transmitting the emergency code. The supervisor will recall: “I look at where the Pentagon area is [on the radar scope], and I look, and there was an aircraft squawking 7700, meaning emergency. And it was circling—it was coming down and fast.… [A]nd there was another target with no markings or anything—it was just a target,” with none of the accompanying information that would be emitted by a transponder. This second aircraft is “descending rapidly and very fast.” The supervisor will recall that the two aircraft “circled around and both tags they disappeared. But they stay in the air.” He will provide no further information on the identities of the aircraft or why one of them is transmitting the emergency code. [US Army Center for Military History, 11/14/2001 pdf file] There will be eyewitness accounts of aircraft near the Pentagon around this time (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001, 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:41 a.m.-9:42 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Davison Army Airfield

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Pentagon on fire.The Pentagon on fire. [Source: Press Association]Television news reports describe an explosion and fire occurring at the Pentagon, but do not specify that a plane hit it:
bullet Two seconds after 9:39 a.m., reporter Jim Miklaszewski states on NBC News: “I don’t want to alarm anybody right now, but apparently, there—it felt, just a few moments ago, like there was an explosion of some kind here at the Pentagon. We’re on the E-ring of the Pentagon. We have a window that faces out toward the Potomac, toward Kennedy Center. We haven’t been able to see or—or hear anything after the initial blast. I just stepped out in the hallway. Security guards were herding people out of the building, and I saw just a moment ago as I looked outside, a number of construction workers who have been working here, have taken flight. They’re running as far away from the building as they can right now. I—I hear no sirens going off in the building; I see no smoke, but the building shook for just a couple of seconds. The windows rattled and security personnel are doing what they can momentarily to clear this part of the building. Again, I have no idea whether it was part of the construction work, whether it was an accident or what is going on. We’re going to try to find those details and get them to you as soon as possible. But interestingly enough, one intelligence official here in the building said when he saw what appeared to be the coordinating attack on the World Trade Center, his advice was to stay away from the outside of the building today just in case.” [NBC, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:40, CNN coverage includes a banner stating, “Reports of fire at Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/11/2001] Three minutes later, CNN producer Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon: “It’s impossible for me to say… exactly what caused this. I did not hear an explosion but there is certainly a very, very significant fire in this enormous office building.” [CNN, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:42, ABC News reports smoke coming from somewhere behind the Old Executive Office Building, next to the White House. Two minutes later it reports a “fire confirmed at the Pentagon.” [ABC News, 9/11/2001]
bullet At 9:43, CBS News reports “smoke pouring out of the Pentagon,” but adds, “We don’t know whether this is the result of a bomb or whether it is yet another aircraft that has targeted a symbol of the United States’ power.” [CBS, 9/11/2001]
However, no media outlets record video footage of the Pentagon crash, and the cause of the explosion remains unknown for some minutes afterward. The Associated Press is apparently the first source to report that a plane hit the Pentagon (see 9:43 a.m.-9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Pentagon, Jim Miklaszewski

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Associated Press news alert at 9:43 a.m. states, “An aircraft has crashed into the Pentagon, witnesses say.” [Associated Press, 2001 pdf file; Broadcasting and Cable, 8/26/2002] This is apparently the first news of the crash. Initial television reports stated there had been an explosion at the Pentagon, but not that a plane caused it (see 9:39 a.m.-9:44 a.m. September 11, 2001). Minutes later, there is still uncertainty over what caused the explosion. At 9:49, CNN’s Chris Plant reports from the Pentagon, “[I]nitial reports from witnesses indicate that there was in fact a helicopter circling the building, contrary to what the AP reported, according to the witnesses I’ve spoken to anyway, and that this helicopter disappeared behind the building, and that there was then an explosion” (see (9:35 a.m.-9:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/11/2001] It is not until 9:53 that CNN confirms, “it was a plane that crashed into the Pentagon.” [CNN, 9/11/2001]

Entity Tags: CNN, Associated Press

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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